Having realized that Sunil Chhetri’s influence was neutralized in the 0-0 draw against FC Pune City in the first leg of the play-offs, coach Albert Roca was quick to change his system.
In the previous game, Ranko Popovic, his opposite number at FC Pune City, slotted Adil Khan on the right-back position in order to not afford Chhetri much space and his physicality too helped him win most duels.
Also, it must be noted that Bengaluru didn’t create any chance of note from open play. Dimas Delgado was being harried and fouled constantly by different players so as to escape the booking while Toni Dovale struggled for space to make an impact.
He deployed Boithang Haokip on the left, played Erik Paartalu alongside Delgado and allowed Chhetri to play through the centre alongside Miku. Udanta Singh was asked to stretch play on the right flank.
What this did was allowed Chhetri some space to manoeuvre as only Rohit Kumar was around to keep him in check. He did not have to worry about Adil’s physicality anymore and his ability to keep the ball under pressure was best seen in the move for the first goal. Although Udanta’s delivery wasn’t the best, Chhetri did well to stretch and his looping header saw Vishal Kaith and Gurtej Singh clatter and let the ball go into an empty net.
Bengaluru's line-up gave an indication that they would hit the opposition on the counter with pace down the flanks through Haokip and Udanta alongside the finishing skills of Miku and Chhetri. While everyone thought Pune would play on the counter, it was the other way around.
Although Pune made a good start to the game, they lost their way, especially Diego Carlos, after an argument with the referee around the 34th minute. Since that incident, the Brazilian was completely off the pace and should have been replaced sooner.
When Lenny Rodrigues came in for Haokip in the 58th minute, Roca once again switched his system. Chhetri moved to the left flank, Miku down the middle with Udanta on the right. It was Chhetri’s run from the left which earned them a penalty and gave them a vital 2-0 lead.
With the introduction of Lenny, Pune were struggling to find space as Bengaluru played more compact with three midfielders against two of the visitors. Probably at that point, it would have been a smarter option to bring in Jonatan Lucca or Marcos Tebar. Marcelinho too didn’t have the best of games as he tried too hard at times.
Of the front three, only Emiliano Alfaro looked threatening as he worked his socks off to create something out of nothing.
As much as the game would be remembered for Chhetri’s hat-trick, Roca’s tactical switch also deserves a mention as it exposed Pune’s inexperience. The first two goals were a result of their defensive errors and it’s fair to say that they fell for Roca’s plan by keeping possession.